finding the soul of the place

Virginia Bluebells with Tulips
Virginia Bluebells with Tulips–Delightful Early Spring Combination

“Spirit of site”, a loose translation of  what the ancients called the ‘genius locii’ , leads the designer to find and reveal ‘the soul’ at a piece of earth commonly called some body’s property. I think tapping into the spiritual energy of a place essential for the design process to create a beautiful, functional, and earth-friendly landscape that works for the humans living in it.

We don’t talk about it, but we feel it. Responding to the existing ‘spirit of site’ is the key to creating a landscape that nurtures us and our earth. How do I find it?I use a simple method that I’ve taught in design courses and workshops to home gardeners and professionals.

The process begins with a silent walk about the site using your senses to notice what you smell, hear, see, touch, and could taste. Let your senses guide you to a place to sit on the ground. Then sit with eyes closed for as long as you are able–hopefully 5 to 20 minutes.

Notice what you hear, smell, and feel. When you open eyes notice what you see. Take a moment and write down your sensory observations. Walk the area again and note what you might have missed before. That’s it. 

You might be amazed at obvious things that you’ve learned to ‘edit’ from your sensory input–I often am. Things that we might label good or bad and are necessary to note and work with during the design process of creating a beautiful landscape. As a homeowner if you do this exercise, you and your designer (maybe me) will be on the same page, so to speak, and ready to begin the design process.

Once I’ve inventoried my five sense and the elusive 6th,then,I can proceed to with the design planning. Only then can I create the space, work the circulation for people and machines, add the garden’s structure and winter plantings. Then I create wonderful planting combination with color and texture (like the spring combination in the photo above). I design plantings to delight us from inside the  house and within the garden. I endeavor to create garden places that ask us to pause, and linger, and discover what the ‘spirit of the site’ has to offer.

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